Introducing biometrics in the U.S. voting process: Q&A with Dave Gerulski

October 16, 2016 - 

With the upcoming U.S. Presidential election just around the corner, voter ID fraud has become a controversial issue that is being debated among many states and the Obama administration.

The debate involves whether or not requiring individuals to present their picture ID to vote is obtrusive, as it can make it more difficult to vote and negatively impact the overall voter turnout from low-income communities.

Using fingerprint biometric technology, Americans would no longer require a state-issued form of ID. Instead, they could simply press one or more fingers against a fingerprint scanner to have their identity immediately verified.

As part of a greater initiative to eliminate fraud and bring more voters to South American polls, Integrated Biometrics has provided more than 13,000 of its Watson Mini fingerprint recognition scanners to help register and enroll eligible voters in Brazil and Brazilian consulate offices worldwide.

BiometricUpdate.com had the opportunity to discuss its involvment in bringing fingerprint biometrics to the voter ID system in Brazil, the overall impact on Brazil’s voter turnout, and how a similar push for biometrics in the U.S. voting process could potentially benefit the country, with Integrated Biometrics vice president of sales and marketing, Dave Gerulski.

I understand that Integrated Biometrics has provided fingerprint readers for voter registration in Brazil. Can you tell me more about this?

Dave Gerulski: Voting is mandatory in Brazil for literate citizens between 18 and 70 years old. Over the past two years, the Brazilian government has implemented more than 13,000 Integrated Biometrics Watson Mini two-finger roll scanners to enroll and register eligible voters throughout the country and in its consulate offices worldwide.

What has been the overall impact, so far, of using biometrics to authorize voter ID in South America?

In this particular case, biometrics is helping to overcome geographical challenges to register the population to vote. For example, Brazil is heavy into agriculture, with about four million small family farms scattered about the country’s three million square miles (7,769,964 kilometers). This important segment of the nation’s population represents about three quarters of Brazil’s farm labor force, and these people have limited means of reaching centralized locations to register to vote. Mobile electronic fingerprint devices enable the government to reach these citizens, provide them with their right to vote while ensuring security, and reducing the potential for fraud.

Many other countries around the world have introduced fingerprint authorization to their voting system. Why do you think the U.S. has not done the same?

Until recently, the U.S. population associated fingerprinting with criminal activity and incarceration. It wasn’t until Apple incorporated Touch ID fingerprint technology to provide access security for the iPhone in September of 2013 – it’s only been three years but it seems longer – that the general public embraced fingerprint biometrics as a common enabling technology. Additionally, the U.S. has been providing identification documentation for our citizens for decades: in 1771 the first passports were issued, birth certificates in 1902, drivers licenses in 1913, and social security numbers in 1936. Though we have been tracked for years, we are very protective of our identities.

Other nations are using biometrics to enable social services for their populations, thus the citizens are getting something from establishing a digital identity. Thankfully, dialogue is beginning to pick-up in the U.S. between industry, government, and special interest groups to clear-up any misconceptions and ensure everyone is on the same page. Realistically it’s just a matter of time before we as a nation get over any hesitancy toward using biometrics on a large scale.

If a similar system were to be introduced in U.S. electoral polls, some would speculate that there would be a backlash in regards to public privacy. What are your thoughts on this?

It’s my opinion that requiring a valid identifiable fingerprint for voting in the U.S. would result in a more accurate accounting and fewer overall votes cast as it (biometric identification) eliminates fraud. For example, you would reduce the number of deceased registering to vote. As a downside, there would also likely be votes lost due to individuals’ reluctance to submit their biometrics for registration, seeing it as a privacy threat.

As I mentioned, there is conversation happening now between all parties regarding the potential uses of biometrics for the public good – think of the reduction in Social Security and tax fraud alone. In the U.S. there’s a process that needs to happen in advance of biometrics being implemented in elections. The good news for the industry is the more often citizens log into their phone, make a purchase, or open a door using their fingerprint, the quicker we experience and embrace the benefits of using biometrics in our everyday lives.

I’m just playing the devil’s advocate here, but wouldn’t switching over to fingerprint authorization for voter ID be, in fact, more obtrusive than asking for photo ID?

Technologically speaking, no, absolutely not. Simply placing one or more fingers on a scanner for a couple of seconds may actually be quicker and easier than ensuring you have valid ID on hand. From an orientation standpoint, you’re seeing more and more Americans using fingerprint biometrics in their daily lives, from accessing smartphones to using express lanes at sports stadiums and airport security checkpoints. As the technology in general becomes ubiquitous, the less you’ll see people having issues with “giving up” their biometrics for access to benefits and services.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.